Thursday, October 13, 2011

October Thirteenth, in the Year Two Thousand Eleven

I haven't blogged in a while, and George R.R. Martin is mostly to blame. His books are really, really good. It's been an intense few months.

Three random topics:
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The problem with owning a big retail store like Borders is that you pay your employees absolutely nothing, and their pay is not in any way related to how the business is doing. This is probably a big reason why Borders failed (besides the whole eBook thing). Think about it: if I'm working for a flat seven dollars an hour with no chance for more and I see someone shoplifting or damaging store property, I'm probably going not going to be inclined to do anything about it. People want to avoid confrontation in general, and confronting someone who is shoplifting could potentially end with me getting hurt. It's not like the store is going to close if I let that guy walk out with that stack of books, right? Okay, maybe Borders is a poor example, but apply the same argument to Target.

Difficult customers at checkout, customer service, or on the phone usually get what they want, too. Most employees are so annoyed by having to deal with someone that they will do everything they can get away with to get the person to go away. If this means the store loses money, it doesn't matter. They're making minimum wage, and it's not like they'll get a raise if the store is extra profitable during the quarter. This is the point where I make some sweeping generalization about what all of this means or what we should do about it, but instead I'll just say that I'm glad I don't work at Target. I'd like to say that I'm also glad I don't own a Target, but the fact is that when you pay your employees that little, it doesn't matter if the occasional looters target the store.
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The best three mass-produced chocolates:

Peanut Butter M&M's
Peanut M&M's
Kit Kat

Top three overrated candy bars:

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
Snickers
Butterfinger

They're all still good, but come on, they're not that good. I believe that Reese's PB Cups would be three or four times as good if they were made with crunchy peanut butter.

The worst three chocolates on the market:

Three Musketeers (not even edible)
Milky Way (a Three Musketeers with caramel. Or maybe a Snickers without nuts. Has there ever been a more useless candy bar?)
Milk Duds (perfect for gluing a child's teeth together, though)

Ultimately, I prefer Green & Black's and other overpriced nonsense, so this largely doesn't have an impact on me. But I'm pretty good at having strong opinions about things that are inconsequential, so there it is.
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Dark Souls might just be the best game on the PS3, and perhaps my favorite of all time if it keeps going as good as it has. All this nonsense about it being more difficult than Demon's Souls seems like hype to me--the first game was way more difficult. But maybe the fact that I played the first game and knew what to expect has impacted my perception on Dark Souls? I will be sure to over-analyze the issue in my next post on Gamer Treatise, which is almost as overdue as this post. But hey, it's not slacking off when you do it as a hobby, right?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New York is So Freaking Badass

Sara and I just spent an epic ten days in New York and now I’ve got several hours on a plane to reflect. This will certainly be long, but I’ll be sure to put headings throughout so those who only care to scan can find the information they want quickly and easily.

The real purpose of this trip was research for Sara’s PhD dissertation, which was not in any way neglected and really went quite swimmingly. I won’t get into too much detail on that—if you’re really interested, you can read the dissertation in a year or so.

Considering we did not skimp on the research, it’s kind of amazing how many recreational activities we enjoyed. Off the top of my head, here’s the count:

-Two baseball games
-Seven Broadway musicals (Sara saw six of these)
-Six pizza places, gyro carts galore, and the Soup Nazi!
-Five museums
-Four bus tours
-Two trips on the Staten Island Ferry (essentially a free boat tour)
-Lots of general enjoyment of Times Square and the surrounding area
-Two cathedrals

Now for the (probably overly) detailed report:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

After an 8:50am flight, we arrived at LaGuardia Airport at about 2:00pm, took a cab to our hotel, and immediately headed out to Queens for a Mets game. We got there three hours early, so we grabbed a couple of hot dogs and sodas, and just enjoyed the park, which some German fellows informed us featured the globe from King of Queens and the towers from the end of Men In Black. Who knew? In this very nice park, we found our first museum!

Museum #1: Queens Museum of Art
This was just a little museum and we had time to kill, so we went in on a whim. The admission was only $2.50, but at first it was slightly disappointing. Then we found a scale model of the entire city of New York in a large, auditorium-sized room, and that made the admission fee more than worth it. There was a little walkway that one could take around the entire room, and it was kind of fun finding our current location, our hotel’s location, etc. Everything else was modern art, which I rarely appreciate. It just strikes me as people trying to be weird. Of course, there was this awesome thing outside the bathroom:














We left the museum, grabbed another couple of hot dogs (at $3 a piece, we probably saved $10-15 by buying them outside of the ballpark), and went to the Mets game.

Baseball Game #1: Mets vs. Braves
Citi Field was much nicer than Shea Stadium, but that’s not much of a consolation for the woes of Mets fans. They gave out free hats, which was awesome because I like free stuff. The Mets won 4-1 (or 4-2?), helped much by Jose Reyes’s tenth triple of the year. Too bad the win doesn’t really mean much to the team. Poor Mets fans—with the team’s location, income, nice ballpark, and core of young studs and great-though-oft-injured veterans, you’d think they’d be better, but you’d be wrong. It’s hard for me to feel too bad, though, since they’ve won the World Series more times than the San Francisco version of the Giants.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Our hotel was in the west part of Queens, and only four subway stops from the Rockefeller Center. Given the money we saved by not staying in Manhattan, we couldn’t have asked for a more convenient location. We took our first excursion into downtown Manhattan and visited our fist cathedral.

Cathedral #1: Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
The intricate carvings in each of the small chapels along the sides of the building were incredible. Not much more to say about it. We stayed for about fifteen minutes of their service, and I experienced holy envy of the Catholic mass—it’s so cool that they concentrate so much on music and readings straight from the scriptures. Of course, I was also bothered that the music was mainly sung by a soloist (who was fantastic) and that the hymnals included only the melodies. Give me the harmonies and the ability to participate in the music, please.

We left the cathedral, took the subway north, and arrived in a nice neighborhood next to a very green park. I must say I was quite surprised by the number of tranquil parks in New York. It’s not what I expected, but I guess with the kind of unequalled urban sprawl present in the city, the residents need convenient, pastoral places to relax. We walked through the park up to our next target, another museum!

Museum #2: The Cloisters
This is a medieval museum in the northernmost part of Manhattan, with the building based on seven different medieval structures from around Europe. European medieval art is pretty cool, but I really prefer European art from the Renaissance through the nineteenth century. So this wasn’t totally my kind of thing, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. One nice thing about the museums in New York was that they have “suggested donations,” not admission fees. You have to donate to get in, and they ask for exorbitant amounts ($20 here at The Cloisters), but they’ll take whatever you can afford. We paid $4 each and I think it was too much. Rich people are supposed to support museums, not people on a budget!

The museum’s cafe was charging $9 for a small turkey sandwich, so we grabbed a couple of slices of cheese pizza in the neighborhood next to the subway before heading over to Brooklyn to make first contact with the group sponsoring the event on which Sara’s research centered.

Brooklyn Hare Krishna Temple, Trip 1
I’ve spent some time at Hare Krishna temples with Sara, but this one was very different. My experience in the past is that Krishna devotees are friendly, outgoing, and more than willing to talk. We arrived early, hoping to meet some people, but no one would speak to us. For those who know me, you know that I don’t really have any trouble talking to someone if I really want to talk, but that was not the case here. We would say hello, be greeted with a “Hare Krishna,” and then quickly find ourselves alone again. Eventually, their Sunday services started, and they were lovely (more holy envy of the concentration on music), and it was almost a relief to not need to speak to anyone for the three to four hours over which they took place. Afterward, we lined up for dinner, still found no one talking to us, and just when we were getting ready to leave, I finally asked a passing woman if the temple president was around (Sara had previously corresponded with him via email). As luck would have it, the woman was the temple president’s wife. Although her husband was busy at the time, she gave us her number, told us the best times to come back during the week, and left us feeling much more optimistic about the trip (after five hours of feeling quite distressed).

Monday, June 6, 2011

I have visited New York once in the past, and the open-topped, double-decker bus tour was a highlight of the trip for me. This being Sara’s first visit, we made sure to get a 48-hour pass which gave us unlimited rides on four bus tours, two of which allow you to hop off anytime there’s something you’d like to see. A guy at the Rockefeller Center had offered us tickets on Sunday, and we told him that we’d come back to him when we were ready to make our purchase, as he works on commission. We kept our word (it was only slightly inconvenient), and he was clearly surprised and pleased. We were glad to make his day. Onto our first bus tour!

(I got airsick, so the rest of this travelogue was written post-plane.)

Bus Tour #1: Uptown Manhattan
The tour took us around upper Manhattan, which was awesome. We jumped off the bus at our next destination, yet another museum.

Museum #3: Natural History Museum
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always been fascinated by blue whales. I’ve seen them in film, seen pictures, seen diagrams showing how big they are, but have always wanted to see one in person. The Natural History Museum gave me the next best thing: a scale model. Let’s just say that it lived up to expectations. We went through most of the other rooms and ended in the dinosaur bone exhibit, which was also super badass. I got to see a tyrannosaurus rex, man. Overall, this museum was a blast. One thing bugged me: I told the guys we were starving students (which is half true) when we donated only $4 each (as opposed to their suggested donation of $20). They laughed and said the term was starving artist, not starving student. Stupid elitist New Yorkers and their lack of knowledge about common terms.

We grabbed a couple $7 lamb gyros outside of the museum, which we later learned was exorbitant overpricing. It was delicious, but I also ruined a semi-new shirt because we had to eat on a park bench (in Central Park!). Damn that delicious gyro with its yummy white sauce. Back on the bus tour for a little bit, until we came to another cathedral.

Cathedral #2: The Cathedral of St. John The Divine
According to the bus tour guide, this is the biggest cathedral in Christendom. It was freaking huge. And someone was playing the organ when we walked in. It was deafeningly awesome. We only spent about twenty minutes here, then we waited for thirty minutes for another bus to come by (they’re supposed to come every fifteen minutes. Grrr...). When one finally did come, it was full, so we had to wait for another one. I was quite upset by this, but we finally got back to Times Square.

They have this booth in Times Square called TKTS, where you can get Broadway tickets for 20-50% on the day of the show. We went and inquired about a few shows, but it was a slow day and they have a policy that you must buy the best tickets available. Therefore, most shows were $70-80 a piece. We were discussing shows with one of their employees, who was just there to answer questions, and he mentioned going to the Times Square Visitor Center and getting a list of shows that do rush tickets. This proved to be a pivotal moment in our trip, but more on this later.

We had time to kill until the night bus tour, so we walked around, looking for a cheap meal, and found that this was impossible in Times Square...unless one ate at a food cart. We got a couple of $4 gyros (yes, twice in one day, and completely worth it!) and I managed to stain my pants, but not to the ruination level of my shirt. This was not a good day for my clothing.

Bus Tour #2: Night Tour
This was the best tour. It was brilliant weather, we got to see Manhattan and Brooklyn at night, and it was just generally very relaxed. Our tour guide was an awesome girl from Brooklyn, and she noted that we were really into the tour--afterwards she mentioned that she appreciated our enthusiasm and asked where we from. She was surrounded by people, so we didn’t stay to chat too long, and I regretted this for a couple of days. I kept saying to Sara, “We should have stayed and talked to her! She was so awesome and now we’ll never see her again!” I’m a weird guy.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Obtaining tickets for our first Broadway show
Okay, so what we learned from the guy at the TKTS booth is that many shows on and off Broadway do “rush” tickets, which means you show up at a specific time (usually when the box office opens at 10:00am or two hours before curtain), and you can get reduced price tickets on the day of the show. (Some of the more popular shows do lotteries, but more on this later.)

Sara and I decided to split up and try for two different shows. We targeted two revivals: I went to Anything Goes and Sara went to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. (The tickets were first come, first serve, so we wanted to expand our chances to get them.) Ten minutes before the box office opened, an employee of the Anything Goes theatre announced that they had only ten tickets. I was thirtieth in line, so I quickly rushed over to the closest theatre, which was for Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark. During this time, I was constantly in contact with Sara to make sure we didn’t both buy tickets, which would have been a disaster. The person in line in front of me bought the last Spiderman tickets, so I ran across the street to Mary Poppins. No one was in line and they had tickets left, but Sara was only four people back now. I waited to step forward, scared by the two groups of people who walked in and bought tickets before me, but Sara got the last pair for How to Succeed... They cost $30 each. List price: $132. $204 saved, just like that. Heck yes.

Bus Tour #3a: Downtown Manhattan
We did half of the lower Manhattan tour bus before jumping off at Battery Park to catch the Brooklyn tour. Interesting, but nothing noteworthy enough to write down here.

Museum #4: National Museum of the American Indian
We stepped in here mainly because it was free, had restrooms, and was air conditioned. We did look around, though, and there was some cool stuff. My favorites were the peace pipes and the horse ornaments (headdresses and the like). We walked around for less than an hour, but it was a nice respite before jumping on our next tour bus.

Bus Tour #4: Brooklyn Tour
Our tour guide was an older gentleman who had a wealth of knowledge and a very different style than the almost exclusively young tour guides we had previously. He did a great job, and especially made the best out of a bad situation, as there was a ton of traffic and sweltering heat, so the experience was two hours of physical discomfort coupled with mental interest in the tour itself. We ended the tour with sunburns on our arms and faces, but they cleared up relatively quickly, so they didn’t completely ruin the trip. (The building is a shopping mall modeled after the Polo Grounds. Not sure why this is in Brooklyn, but right next door, there's one modeled after Ebbets Field.)


Bus Tour #3b: Downtown Manhattan, continued
We jumped back onto the lower Manhattan tour, but quickly jumped off to eat in Little Italy, which is known for its good food.

We didn’t want to spend too much, so we went to an inexpensive pizza place called Pomodoro’s. We got a white pizza with tons of cheese, ricotta, spinach, broccoli, and a light layer of the place’s famous vodka sauce. Oh. My. Gosh. I have never been so full from a medium pizza. Usually, we can polish off an extra large like it’s nothing. This thing was thick and the cheese was heavy. It was fantastic. I just wish they hadn’t been so stingy with the vodka sauce, because it was supposedly quite spicy (I detected no spice!).

Bus Tour #3c: Downtown Manhattan, continued
We jumped back onto the lower Manhattan bus, led by an angry European tour guide who disparaged all Manhattanites, their abundant wealth (where applicable), idiot motorists, the ridiculous heat, and pretty much anything else imaginable. It was actually very interesting, as he was giving us a lot more of the inside scoop on what it’s like to live in New York, rather than just historical information about the buildings we were passing. We arrived back at Times Square, ready for Harry Pot--er, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Broadway Musical #1: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
This is the first Frank Loesser play I have seen, and considering one of my professors at FSU does lots of research on Loesser, it was about time. The script was hilarious, the songs were memorable and catchy, and it was just a generally fantastic production. We had box seats that pushed right up against the stage, so while we had a partial view, we also got a full view of the orchestra pit and were only ten to twenty feet away from the actors. The two lead roles were played by Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette. Radcliffe was surprisingly funny, sang competently enough, and really showed off his dancing chops in the closing number. It was such a trip to be so close to someone so famous. Larroquette (who apparently won several Emmy awards for his role on Night Court, which I’ve never watched) was over-the-top in the best of ways. He won a Tony award the other night for his role in this show, and it was well deserved. I think Radcliffe was snubbed by not being nominated, but maybe that’s just me. I could tell that he has a serious work ethic and, most importantly, that he really enjoys what he is doing. I’d like to see him in other Broadway roles.

When we left the theatre (I actually subscribe to the spelling “theater,” but all of the playhouses in New York use the alternate spelling “theatre,” so I will use that here), there was a large crowd and several police cars around. We quickly figured out that this was a group waiting for Daniel Radcliffe to emerge. We didn’t stick around, as he was probably going to take a while and we weren’t really going to catch a glimpse, anyway. Plus, we’d already had an entire evening of glimpses. Interesting fact: Harry Potter is only 5’6”.

Two of our bus tour guides mentioned the restaurant Junior’s, which they claimed had the best cheesecake ever. Well, Junior’s was right next to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where we saw How to Succeed, so we grabbed a chocolate marble cheesecake slice and a devil’s food cheesecake slice. Getting two slices was a mistake. The chocolate marble was just what you’d expect: a reasonably sized slice of cheesecake with a little chocolate swirled throughout. But the devil’s food. Oh, the devil’s food. Imagine this: a double-decker devil’s food cake, but one of the layers happened to be an incredibly delectable cheesecake. Let’s just say the 1186 calories estimated online seems low. But worth it. Oh, so worth it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Broadway musicals are pretty much my favorite thing ever, and we had found a way to see them for ridiculously low prices. And guess what? Wednesday has matinee and evening performances! Long story short, I got us front row tickets to an off-Broadway performance of Avenue Q (which pretty much swept Wicked of all Tony awards several years ago) for $26.50 each (list price: $126.50). Sara got us matinee tickets to Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark for $30 each (list price: $142).

Broadway Musical #2: Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark
Okay, so out of all the shows we saw in New York, these were the worst seats, the show featured the worst script, the worst music, etc. But the lady next to us paid $145 for her ticket, so it seems our bad seats weren’t too horrible at $30. Not to mention, while we had a very limited view of the stage, the action we most wanted to see took place above the orchestra section. Mezzanine tickets cost the same amount as orchestra tickets for this show, and for good reason: Spiderman and other characters fly around the entire theatre--up to the two levels of balconies, over the the audience, in the rafters, etc. It was really groundbreaking stuff. They needed seven Spiderman flyers, in addition to the actor who played Peter Parker/Spiderman, in order to have the character be everywhere he needed to be. It was really cool. The set design was also the most amazing I have ever seen in a live performance. What the show lacked in artistic quality, it more than made up for in visual aesthetics. It will probably win most, if not all, of the technical Tony awards next year, but probably won’t even garner nominations for the writing or acting. It will be fun to see what happens.

Museum #5a: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
We quickly ran over to the Met, where we donated $5 to look around for an hour. We checked out the Greek and Roman art, the Egyptian art, and the 18th and 19th century art. I learned some new things about Sara, like that her favorite artist is Rodin and she generally prefers sculpture to painting. My favorite artist is Monet, so we checked out his paintings, as well. Then we were off for our next show.

[Off-]Broadway Musical #3: Avenue Q
This is my new favorite show. That’s some slight hyperbole, but not really. It’s easily in my top five, perhaps in my top three, and I might just argue that I’d like to see it again more than anything else. Our front row tickets were incredible, and the script was hilarious. The first line of the play is, “What do you do with a B.A. in English?” which pretty much sets up the whole concept: life is hard, and sometimes it’s hard to find your purpose. I had previously been turned off by the puppets, but I’m now completely sold. The actors actually act--they are in full view while they hold the puppets, make the appropriate facial expressions, cry the tears the puppets cannot, and perhaps most importantly, don’t make any attempts at ventriloquism. This would have been very distracting and it was a good decision to ignore the practice. Two early songs that give you a good idea of what the show is like are “It Sucks To Be Me” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Man, I could probably write ten pages just about how good this show is, but I’ll stop here. See the show if you get a chance.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

First order of morning business: grab some more Broadway tickets. We got a late start, so we were concerned that we might have missed out on the rush tickets, but the first theatre we tried offered us $27 tickets to Catch Me If You Can (list price: $62). Score.

By this point in the week, I was in pretty sore shape, with a blister on my toe, sunburned arms and face, chafed legs, and the soles of my feet absolutely aching. Spending $22 in Walgreen’s took care of most of these problems, and it was the best $22 we spent the whole trip. It was also kind of crazy to purchase medical supplies in the building on which the Times Square Ball (is that what it’s called? It’s the ball that drops on New Year’s Eve, in any case) is located.

Brooklyn Hare Krishna Temple, Trip 2
Sara corresponded with the temple president via email and set up a time to talk to him. We spent three or four hours at the temple this day and got to eat some delicious food. One of the things I like about the Hare Krishna faith is the fact that providing food, called prashadam, is one of their religious practices. Their food is offered to Krishna, therefore the person eating the food is brought closer to God. More holy envy. In any case, Sara got two great and very long interviews with the temple president and another gentleman to whom he introduced us. This was a great turnaround from our previous trip, and we left feeling quite good about things.

We headed back to Manhattan, where the heavens opened and we found ourselves stranded in the rain. We ducked under the awning of a storefront, and I was feeling pretty stupid. When we were packing for our trip, Sara suggested bringing umbrellas. In my previous trip, street vendors had everything we needed, so I told her not to bother because we would have no problem getting them. Well, we had not seen any umbrellas for sale and I was starting to worry that I had made the wrong decision. However, within a few minutes a guy walked by with a cart yelling, “Umbrellas for sale!” We paid him $10 for two and stayed mostly dry for the rest of the night. New York is great because if people see a business opportunity, they’ll take it, which works out for all involved. And great bargains can be found!

Before heading to the evening’s show, we stopped in a pizza place called Famous Amadeus. We got a couple of buffalo chicken slices that were divine, but the problem was that there was so much chicken on the pizza that we couldn’t keep it from falling off. I suppose this is a good problem to have (as long as it falls on the plate!).

Broadway Musical #4: Catch Me If You Can
Our seats for this were in the mid-mezzanine, but they were dead center, which means we had a full view. Awesome. The show followed the plot of the movie pretty closely, but gave Hanratty a little more character development, which is why Norbert Leo Butz won the Tony award for his portrayal. He was very funny. The main difference between the musical and the movie (besides the added song and dance numbers), is that the actors break the fourth wall constantly, deliberately addressing the audience as they tell their story. The music was not particularly memorable, but the show was a blast, anyway. It’s not one I’m dying to see again, but given the price and the opportunity, it was well worth our time. And we got to see a Tony winner in action!

Friday, June 10, 2011

By this point, our clothes were pretty filthy. Quite fortunately, there was a full-service laundry right across the street from our hotel. We paid them $7, they washed and folded our clothes. A brilliant time saver that made the last days of the trip much more enjoyable.

At our subway stop at the Rockefeller Center, we noticed a gyro cart called Sara Halal food. Given that Sara’s name is right on the cart, we had to get a couple of $4 gyros. And they were delicious. Oh, so delicious.

Brooklyn Hare Krishna Temple, Trip 3
At about noon, we headed off to help the Krishna group prepare for their Saturday festival, the Rath Yatra. We picked flowers and sewed garlands for several hours, but I was determined to see a show, so I left Sara at about 4:00 to continue helping while I went in search of some more cheap tickets. After I left, Sara interviewed a traveling kirtan (what she is studying) musician who also plays violin. Very cool. Even cooler: the girl writes a blog about kirtan, so she then interviewed Sara, who will apparently be featured in her next blog post. She’s also played at all of the other temples Sara will be visiting for her research, so they may just meet again. I’m not sure how Sara feels about it, but I think this was the most fortuitous interview she received. (To be fair, though, I haven’t yet watched the film of it. But it just sounds so cool.)

As I said, I was determined to see a show, and I targeted The Book of Mormon, which was up for fourteen Tony awards (and won most of them, including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actress, and a bunch of technical ones). Needless to say, my attempt to see the show will be controversial with a lot of people, but I had previously listened to the music and found myself intrigued. Yes, the creators make a living poking fun at all kinds of groups, but you can tell they have genuine affection for Mormons and are not really attacking. There will be people that take offense, but keep in mind the lesson often taught in church: you choose whether or not to be offended. I actually think The Book of Mormon is a good thing, as the writers clearly did their research and present the Church’s beliefs in a straightforward and accurate manner. Yes, there are some touchy subjects that are addressed, but nothing is downright wrong, except for things which are presented as being wrong. Anyway, moving on.

Being that it is so popular, The Book of Mormon does a lottery for $30 tickets, the first fourteen of which are front row and the last eight of which are box seats. The guy running the lottery was very funny, and the experience was actually a lot of fun, but my name was not called. I quickly ran over to the theatre where Billy Elliot was playing and got two tickets for $31.50 each (list price: $81.50).

Sara came up from her Brooklyn research and we went to another pizza place called A Slice of New York Pizzeria. We had been seeing penne pasta pizza slices for sale, and we grabbed a couple. They were essentially cheese pizza with penne pasta as a topping, covered with ricotta cheese. You’d think the dough and the pasta would be too much, but you’d be wrong. They were excellent slices of pizza, but way overpriced at $5 each.

Broadway Musical #5: Billy Elliot
Our seats were in the fourth row of the mezzanine, but to the far right. They were a somewhat obstructed view, but I wouldn’t call them bad tickets. This was the first show we saw with child actors, and they were all excellent. The music was written by Elton John, and it was better than the U2-composed Spiderman, but still not the best music I’ve ever heard in musical theatre. What was really impressive was the kid (about age 11) who played Billy Elliot. The story takes place during the 1984 British coal miners strike, where young Billy finds himself to be a naturally gifted dancer. The story was surprisingly engaging, but the real highlight was this young kid’s dancing. He could do tap, jazz, ballet, everything. It was incredible. I don’t really have the words to describe it, so go see it if you’re into that sort of thing. It was pretty amazing.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

This was the big day, the reason we came to New York. Rath Yatra. Before we joined the group of thousands of Krishna devotees, we purchased $26.50 tickets (list price: $96.50) to Memphis, last year’s Tony winner. Then it was time for research. However, Sara’s research is not my research, so I dropped her off at the parade that began the Rath Yatra festivities and went to enter The Book of Mormon lottery again. And yet again, I lost, so I quickly ran over and purchased a matinee ticket to Mary Poppins for $32 (list price: $62).

Rathyatra Parade, 5th Avenue, Manhattan
I had about 75 minutes until Mary Poppins started, so I ran several blocks, hoping to find the parade, which I did. They had three big carts and thousands of devotees chanting the Hare Krishna mantra (Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare). These are the three names of God, and Krishna devotees believe that just by hearing them chanted, one is enlightened. By participating, one is more likely to be reincarnated into a family of Krishna devotees, which is a nice thought, since I enjoy participating in their music.

Before I could find Sara, I met a devotee who I walked with in the parade for a bit. His best friend growing up was Mormon, and when I told him about Sara’s research and asked if she could interview him later, he agreed. I then found Sara and introduced them. She made arrangements to interview him, and then while she filmed the parade, I snapped still photos. The parade was enjoyable for the few minutes I participated, and then I was off for Mary Poppins.

Broadway Musical #6: Mary Poppins
I’m not crazy about going to see stage productions of movies I’ve already seen, especially if there’s no new music (they did add a few songs), but Mary Poppins was excellent. This was a theatre with three levels, and I was in the top level, but I had a full view. The set design was amazing, and some of the special effects were downright flabbergasting (“How did they do that?!”). At the end, Mary Poppins used her umbrella to fly right up to the top of the theatre, so she was within thirty feet of me on the top level. Very cool, but the flying was not quite as cool as Spiderman.

Now that my play was over, it was time to rejoin my lovely wife.

Rath Yatra Festival, Washington Square Park, Manhattan
The parade marched right down to Washington Square Park, where they had kirtan and dance performances, prashadam, and many informational booths about Krishna worship. Sara had already gotten several interviews and some great footage of performances, so the day was very productive to that end. I had some prashadam, which was delicious, and checked out some of their information. I didn’t arrive until things were slowing down, but from the aftermath, it looked like it was quite a festival. Sara worked her way through 50gb of camera memory and two camera batteries, which gave out right as the festival ended at 7:00pm. We had an 8:00pm show to catch, so we got ourselves back to Times Square.

Broadway Musical #7: Memphis
This won Best Musical at last year’s Tony Awards and for good reason. The cast was excellent, the music rocked, and the character development was excellent. The plot was loosely based on the life of the first white DJ to play black music on the radio, and centered around his relationship with a black singer (obviously quite forbidden in 1950’s era Tennessee). We had box seats again, but they were a little further back so our view wasn’t as obstructed as it might have been. Overall, the show was in the top three we saw (Avenue Q and How to Succeed being the other two).

We got another slice of Junior’s devil’s food cheesecake. Naughty, naughty.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rath Yatra festivities didn’t continue until 4:00pm that day, so I dropped Sara off at the Met (we donated only $1 this time), as she didn’t get her fill in our previous visit, and I went to enter a lottery for $26.50 Wicked front row seats (The Book of Mormon was dark that day). And for a third time, I lost the lottery. Saddest of days. We’d already seen most of the shows worth seeing, and the others were all dark. So this marked the end of our Broadway experience, since there were no evening shows on Sunday and no matinees on Monday (we had Monday evening plans already, as you’ll see).

Museum #5b: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
I rejoined Sara at the Met, where we checked out the musical instruments section, including a special exhibit of guitars. This was kind of lame, as no one was actually playing these instruments, and we couldn’t either. Instruments are meant to be heard, not seen. We also checked out the arms and armaments section, and it was...interesting?...seeing the brutal ways in which medieval warriors killed each other. We completely ignored the guns. Guns are lame. Give me swords and spears and axes any day. Also, samurai armor is way cooler than European knight armor. Just saying.

We decided to walk across Central Park to the subway, which we were going to take to Brooklyn to continue Sara’s research. The park was very nice (interesting fact: it is completely man-made over a swamp. One bus tour guide said Central Park is just as elaborately planned as any skyscraper in the city), but when we got to the other side, there was a huge Puerto Rican pride parade going on (another interesting fact: there are more Puerto Ricans in New York City than there are in Puerto Rico). This slowed us down significantly. Unfortunate.

Brooklyn Hare Krishna Temple, Trip 4
Sara got several hours of footage of kirtan, performances of events from the Bhagavad Gita (their main book of scripture), and other celebrations. We also ate more delicious prashadam. No interviews tonight, but she had already gotten plenty, and it was just too loud and crowded to try to talk to any individuals. The footage was more than worth the time, however.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Staten Island Ferry x2
Like I said, no matinees today, which was slightly heart wrenching. We instead caught the Staten Island ferry, a 25-minute boat ride past the Statue of Liberty. Actually visiting the Statue of Liberty would have cost us $30, but the Staten Island ferry is free, as there is no bridge from Manhattan to Staten Island, and people need to get around. We immediately hopped the next one back, so got a pleasant 50-minute boat tour for free. What a steal.

World Trade Center/Ground Zero
As in my previous trip, there isn’t much to see here except construction. There are a few plaques up for the firefighters who died, as well. They do have a new memorial, but it costs $15 to get in. This is ridiculous. Monetizing this national disaster doesn’t seem quite right to me.

Soup Nazi
If you watch Seinfeld, you surely are aware of the Soup Nazi. Well, we found out where his original location is, and we had to eat there. It was kind of a letdown, really. We paid $16 for a 32-ounce container of shrimp corn chowder, which was delicious, but nowhere near worth the price. It did come with an orange, a single slice of bread, and a Lindor truffle ball, so that’s something. But it was some blond chick who sold it to us, not the Soup Nazi! Disappointing, but it was really good soup.

Baseball Game #2: Yankees vs. Indians
We sat in the bleachers, and the Bleacher Creatures are a lot of fun, despite the loud obscenities. I did really enjoy their calling out the name of each player in turn, and not stopping until the player turned and waved. Fun to see. Nick Swisher is a hoot. I’ve always liked him, but I’m a much bigger fan now. Also, this was a historic game, as it was the first game the Yankees lost 1-0 in the new Yankee Stadium. It took three years, but we got to see it. We also saw Derek Jeter’s 2,994th hit, before he injured himself and had to get taken out of the game. Jerk.




Tuesday, June 14, 2011
One last falafel sandwich, and then we flew home. It was sad.

Overall, this trip was pretty much the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life and I totally want to move to New York now. Going to Broadway shows on a regular basis would be just about the coolest thing for which I could ever hope. I don’t necessarily want to spend my whole life in New York, but living there for five years or so would be a crazy cool experience. I hope someday I get a chance.

Oh, and incidentally, the grand total we spent on 13 Broadway tickets was $375. Face value? $1343. I
love New York.

Friday, May 13, 2011

No Idea Where This Will Go

I feel like I should blog, don't really have anything to do otherwise, and have at least ninety minutes to kill. That being said, I don't really even know what I'm going to write about it. Therefore, this could end up being incredibly short...or my longest post yet, assuming I give in to my all-controlling need to ramble.

Now that I have used the word "ramble," Led Zeppelin is stuck in my head. "Ramble On" has been mentioned on my blog before, and now I am now mentioning it again. It's crazy the way things come full circle.

Which brings me to The Lion King. I haven't watched that movie in years, but I used to love it so hardcore. I could quote entire scenes verbatim. Now I'm not so crazy about it, even though I saw it live at the Pantages years ago. Generally seeing something live increases my enjoyment of that thing, but this was not necessarily the case with The Lion King. Don't get me wrong--I'm glad I saw it, I'd see it again, and it was by no means bad. It's just that in this instance, my love was not increased.

My best example of an increase in enjoyment after having seen something performed live is the Elliott Smith song, "The Biggest Lie." The song seemed boring and overly simple to me at one point, but then I saw it live when Elliott played in Silverlake back in 2001. All of a sudden, I enjoyed the song. Now I can't pick up a guitar without playing the solo. Those double stops are just a blast.

When it comes to soloing, I'm not very good. I've gotten better as the years go by, but I'm just such a better rhythm guitar player. I wish this wasn't the case. I really want to be a badass soloist, like Jimmy Page. Jimmy Page is a freaking rock god. And once again, I'm back at Led Zeppelin.

Did you know that Led Zeppelin spelled "led" the way they did because they thought stupid Americans would pronounce it "leed" zeppelin if they spelled it properly? The thing that's awesome about that is that they were right. Sometimes thinking ahead saves a lot of future stupidity. Just thinking about stupidity makes me sick.

But not really sick, because I haven't vomited for more than five years. At least I don't think I've vomited in more than five years. I've definitely felt nauseous, but actually given in? Never.

I pretty much fight nausea anytime I have to wake up early. Ever since I started working in an office, that's about five or six days a week. It's hell. Nausea is no fun. Other things that are no fun: gas prices, speed limits, and cats. I hate cats.

My hatred of cats stems most likely from my dad, who also hates cats. This has never been explained to me. However, in tenth grade I had a girlfriend who loved her cat more than me. This just made it my own hatred, rather than an inherited one. Stupid cats. Their constant presence in internet memes makes me want to commit seppuku.

For that matter, internet memes in general are stupid. For every one that is legitimately funny, there are 29 more that are incredibly dull. And those few that are funny are so pervasive in our culture that they cease to be funny and just simply exist. It's a horrible thing. Also, people hate on things, and this very action makes the people behind the hated things very rich. It's sad, really.

Here's a case study: Rebecca Black's "Friday" is considered by many to be the worst song ever written. (This is hardly the case, but it's certainly not a very good song. However, it's not noteworthily bad and does succeed in being catchy in the most annoying of ways. It's pretty much like all modern pop music, by that standard.) These people perpetuate the song, however, by encouraging people to listen to it, just to share how bad it really is. Thanks to them, that girl is a freaking millionaire. There's no need for excellence anymore--internet trolls make the worst of the worst more successful than anything that takes actual hard work, talent, and initiative. Awesome stuff.

So if hard work is not its own reward, what does that encourage? Laziness. It all comes back to laziness, really. Talent is useless, so why try developing it? And initiative. I took the initiative to open up Blogger, and look what happens--I write about everything and nothing, fail to be clever or interesting, and will be read by all of four people (all of whom are family members). Unless I take the initiative to post it on Facebook, which I usually do, but now I see that I need to be even worse at this thing at which I'm not even good to find any kind of success. I'm going to try:

...

See, this is why I'll never be successful. That paragraph took five times longer than any two paragraphs in this entire thing, and it wasn't even THAT bad. It's like, I really try to suck at doing things, but I always manage to be fairly competent. It's my curse.

My wife and I recently watched the Pillars of the Earth mini series. It was badass, and it included a few curses. As in actual curses by a witch or whatever, not just swear words. There were also cute lady butts. I'm a big fan of cute lady butt. Not that I don't appreciate boobs. Boobs are super important. But I won't say anything more on that subject. (Hi, Grandma!)

Besides boobs, here are some other things that are round and awesome: baseballs, citrus fruit, and globes. I actually like maps more than globes, but both are cool. I was just saying this morning that I really enjoy looking at maps. I can't explain it, but they're just so cool. That being said, I have no desire to visit most of the places included on any given map. I'm fairly cheap when it comes to travel. I feel like I have to have a need to be somewhere to warrant spending the money to get there. And my wife loves to travel. My poor wife.

And my wife is poor. I mean, she has me for a husband, and I lack the suckiness to make us any real money. Why can't I be worse at stuff?

Things that I am worse at than most people: dancing, knowing actor's names, and handwriting. My handwriting is atrocious. It's like if a first grader smoked crack and forgot with which hand he writes. Except five times worse. And with that thought, I will close.